'Dead Island 2' Review: Simple, Concise Zombie Busting

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Before I started my expedition through HELL-A, my cynicism was at an all-time high. A game that has been through development hell since 2014 surely can't be anything more than a disheveled final product akin to one of Dead Island's shambling walkers, right? To my pleasant surprise, Dead Island 2 kept me fully absorbed in its amusing trek through a version of Los Angeles and San Francisco wrecked by the zombie apocalypse. While I was still shocked by the presence of technical bugs and glitches here and there, the majority of my time spent with this zombie-bashing simulator was a pleasurable one. Welcome to my Dead Island 2 review.

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'Dead Island 2' Review

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So let's get the obvious out of the way first - Los Angeles and San Francisco are not considered islands whatsoever. Never mind that geographical error, however - exploring the sunnyside locales of both hub areas ends up being a highly engrossing undertaking. Like the first Dead Island, players will be tasked with navigating large sections of the game's vast open world. Moving to another area doesn't feel extremely overwhelming since each area is sectioned off from each other and sizable enough to give you its own litany of side missions and collectibles to go out of your way to discover. I agree with the sentiment that not every game needs to be a massive open-world endeavor - Dead Island 2 avoids that error since it makes the simple task of exploring less of a chore and more of a rewarding activity thanks to the implementation of interconnected hubs.

HELL-A is a lot more varied than one might think - you'll run across beachside hangouts, boardwalk carnivals, sewers, military bases, etc. It's pretty fun when you make your way through those areas in the daytime and are treated to the shockingly impressive visual splendor on display - simply put, Dead Island 2 looks pretty damn good. You'll have an even better time traversing each section of the game once the sun goes down - you'll feel a bit tense as you bump into special zombie types that you'll hear go bump in the night before you encounter them face-to-face. The sounds that come from the blood-curdling cries of "Screamers" and the bone-crunching swings of your sledgehammer against zombies' heads are highly commendable. From a graphical and audio standpoint, Dead Island 2 shines.

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My first trek through HELL-A was with the rocking Englishman who looks just like Lenny Kravitz, Jacob. It's worth noting that each playable "Slayer" comes with their own signature stats, which will play a big part in how you approach combat during subsequent playthroughs. Alongside those special character traits is the inclusion of skill cards that are spread out across the following categories - Abilities, Survivor, Slayer, and Numen. I had a great time playing around with this new mechanic as it introduces powerful maneuvers such as dropkicks and ground pounds that really make a difference during overwhelming zombie standoffs. Unlocking additional skill slots to take advantage of new cards can change up your active and passive abilities in some highly beneficial ways. I especially enjoyed the usage of "Autophage" skills that grant huge attributes but also come with notable negatives. The risk and reward that comes from using those skills add another worthwhile element to the combat mechanics of your post-apocalyptic adventure.

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One thing you'll never get bored of is bringing the pain to the wide range of zombie types that now call HELL-A their home. Of course, you'll run into your basic "Shamblers," slightly faster "Walkers," and insanely nimble "Runners." Things pick up to an even greater degree when you start to clash with the vastly more dangerous "Apex Variants." Switching up your combat tactics does a world of good for you as it'll take more than a few simple melee weapon swings to eliminate beefy "Crushers," exploding "Bursters, toxic bile-spewing "Slobbers," and so much more. I love the fact that "Curveballs," which are throwable weapons that can be attached to two slots, give you more of a fighting chance and enact even more mayhem during especially heated combat scenarios.

Throwing out an electrified shuriken and following that up by flinging a Molotov cocktail to maximize your damage output is just one of the worthwhile instances that arise from utilizing Curveballs. And as expected, the melee combat still feels amazing - the weighty feel that comes from swinging around a sledgehammer and the quick and snappy sensation that is derived from slashing with a katana is impressive. Once you finally get your hands on some pistols, shotguns, and even a few nailguns, the combat opens up a bit more to allow for more creative approaches to staying alive. Using the environment (such as electrifying pools of water to shock the hell of some approaching zombies), upgrading your weapons so they're empowered with elemental traits (such as fire, poison fumes, and electricity), and basking in the amazing visual gore system are three more attributes of Dead Island 2's combat system that excels.

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Now that we're nearly at the end of my Dead Island 2 review, I'd like to touch on two more portions of the game - the story and the overall technical performance. Plotwise, things are simple enough. You'll run into a noted celebrity and a mansion full of survivors as you embark on a mission that entails letting the authorities know you're immune and capable of beating back the debilitating zombie outbreak. And along the way, you'll meet fellow survivors that need your assistance and a few unsavory individuals who want to use your zombie immunity for their own sinister means. Don't expect some highly emotional storytelling on par with The Last of Us or Telltale's The Walking Dead here - there's more of a comedic tinge to what's going on, especially since your chosen Slayer throws out some funny quips whenever they chat it up with another random stranger. The plot being told here isn't bad by any means - it's just solid to a point where it'll still compel you to see how your infected blood will somehow save HELL-A and the world at large. I will say this, though - once you arrive at the mall, the story definitely picks up for the better.

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